Growing Up With My Grandmother

I am honoured to have as Guest Blogger SomerEmpress as she shares with us a few nuggets from her grandmother. Welcome SomerEmpress.

Friends called her Ma’ Sue; to others, she was known by her married name, Ma’ Nibbs. Rarely was she ever called by her first name, Susan. To me, she was larger than life itself. She was my Granny. My first female and maternal influence, she was the woman that I came to know as mom growing up on the island of Dominica, from an infant until about ten years old. She bore only sons, but cared for several granddaughters, including me.

Unlike grandparents who spoiled their grandbabies rotten, then turned them loose on their parents, Granny was not particularly doting and did not seem to be innately affectionate. This isn’t to say that she did not have a maternal instinct, but rather that her tough love had more to do with having raised six strong-willed, rowdy boys, and then having to later care for many of her grandchildren as her own.  When it came to discipline, she was guided by the Bible verse, Train up a child in the way he should go, 
and when he is old he will not depart from it” and that wasn’t always a good thing, as it left little room for error on the part of the child. In hindsight, I now understand; but as a child, God’s wrath was enough to scare what little righteousness I had right out of me!

giftus004av2Though it has been a little over six years since my grandmother passed, both her voice and presence are with me as I raise and nurture my own children and attend to matters of our home. Granny brought swift order to the home and tended to all of our most basic needs. Her skillfulness in handling any and all who were not aligned with her own mission–especially as it pertained to faith or anything else for that matter, made an indelible impression on me till this day. When I think about it, Granny averted many a danger and kept us safe at all costs, though we could not fully understand or appreciate it at the time.

One memory, which stands out for me, was when a certain visitor called for my grandmother from outside our home on the lane where we lived.

“Ma Nibbs!”, she shouted, though she could clearly see from her vantage point, that my grandmother was nowhere close to where she stood.

My grandmother didn’t take kindly to this. Off with her apron, then down came her spoon, just before she reluctantly shuffled her feet, and then hastened to the front of the yard.

“You see, they have bad ways”, she reinforced to both my sister and me, eyeing the two of us to remain where she left us.
“Yes, Granny.” We were in agreement that not only did they have bad ways, but we would stay put as well. What else were we to say or do?

While our home was modest, built almost entirely by my grandfather, my grandmother guarded it like she was manning a royal collection at Buckingham Palace.  Instead of tall wrought iron gates, a simple wooden gate–reinforced by a galvanized steel panel on the front, cut into a cement wall–was all that separated us from the lane, and those who frequented it. In this home, my grandmother reigned as Queen.

My grandmother also had a characteristic way about her when she was asked for advice. She used the word “friend” loosely and did not welcome all who came knocking. Whether it was a “friend”, a member of our local congregation, or a neighbor stopping by on their way home, she spared no one what she saw as truth, garnered largely from her own experience. If she felt that she could not freely share this truth without escalation into an argument, she would simply remain quiet and return to whatever she was doing before her visitor arrived; however, by my observation, it appeared that her quietness made her guests very uncomfortable.  She was not a fan of small talk. Visitors who encountered this deafening silence generally did not return to seek counsel, at least not until the truth­–according to Ma Nibbs, turned out to be their truth as well.

As a child, the whole exchange, or lack thereof, seemed awkward. While my sister and I knew better than to be seen at these times, we remained within earshot of what was now an odd coupling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Instead, what we heard was the squeaky opening of the gate in the front yard, followed by an abrupt drop onto its latch, indicating that our “company” was now gone. Of course, we knew better than to comment – why, that would let the cat out the bag that we had been listening all along–because we knew our place as children in her household, but it sure would have been nice to know whether she would perhaps consider an alternate view.  I am now certain that my grandmother knew we were privy to all of this, as she herself was once a child.

There was a time to be still and a time to talk, she reiterated, and the discernment to know the difference was the true measure of real intelligence and good character. Furthermore, though through more implicit instruction, from my Granny I learned to be authentically me.  Though I did not unpack this gem of wisdom until I was much older, more poignantly with my own children, I learned the importance of standing for something–even if it is only for the credibility of my own convictions about what I believe is right or just, and being unafraid of the response and isolation that doing so might bring.

While I am sure that I romanticize these days growing up with my grandmother, mostly because she filled in as mother during a very formative time of my life, I am keenly aware of the explicit ways in which she loved me, and did more than just tend to my needs. It is true that no two accounts will be the same. While my sister, and many of my cousins, were brought up in the same household for varying lengths of time, I can say, inarguably, that my grandmother raised us.

She took special care in presenting us clean, respectable, and worthy­–first to ourselves, then to the world, and emphasized that we should do the same, whether we were going to the grocery store just two blocks away, or getting on an airplane for our final move to the United States. I can only imagine the gymnastics she would do in her grave if I were to suddenly appear unkempt or uncouth at the local market with pajamas and bedroom slippers! Some people say “WWJD”; I say “WWGD” as in “What Would Granny Do?” not because she has become a lesser god to me, but because she made pure and simple sense when it came to matters of the heart, and provided a firm foundation for doing so.

I’ve learned so much from my granny, but these are just a few of the nuggets that I’ve chosen to share in this post. I will share more at Life As An Art, my blog home, as Spirit inspires. Stay tuned. 🙂


SomerEmpress defines herself as a woman, writer, wife, mother, activist, educator, small business woman, and part-time fitness instructor. She claims many interests, few hobbies, and a passion for Life that is probably unparalleled. 

Follow her blog Life As an Art.


5 comments on “Growing Up With My Grandmother

  1. Giftus,
    Thanks so much for the opportunity to dine at your table! 🙂 It is a real pleasure. I am honored to share some of my fondest memories of my late grandmother; she was a phenomenal woman, indeed.

    I find it especially fitting to speak of her in this venue, given my familiarity with some of the nostalgia and folk culture you captured so aptly in “Ma William and her Circle of Friends. Memories of the time I spent with my grandmother are as alive, vibrant, and memorable to this day.

    I look forward to meeting some of Ma Williams’ readers!

  2. Great post SomerEmpress. I fondly remember Ma Nibbs. As I read your post I could hear Ma Nibbs coming through the Lane calling ‘Cassava Bread’ or something like that. Loved ’em!!!

    Sometimes we wonder where we got the entrepreneurial spirit from, however it is persons like Ma Nibbs (the Ma William’s of Giftus’ story) who found a way to earn an income to support their families, who showed us the way. They didn’t call them entrepreneurs then, but they were:)

    • Indeed, Eunice! Those women taught us a thing or two about being resourceful…. industrious. Coupled with their wisdom, they provided beautifully grounded examples, thereby creating a legacy that would outlive their own years.

      Thanks for sharing that sweet memory of Granny with me. I can almost hear her. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s